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Is the Evolv Phantom 2020’s Best New Bouldering Shoe?

Evolv's Phantom just might be the best new bouldering shoe of 2020. In this piece, we discuss just how and why this is the case

In the past, Evolv has focused on making affordable climbing shoes out of vegan materials. Though Evolv’s past models have provided exceptional durability, some of their shoes felt numb and unresponsive. Sure, they would crush in the gym, but the technology was simple. How well a person climbed in their shoes appeared to be a function of their own ability.

The Evolv Phantom represents a new chapter for the California-based climbing company. It’s exceptional.

To begin, the Phantom is a bouldering shoe, however, it’s also comfortable enough for all angles of sport climbing. On their website, Evolv will tell you a few fun facts about this monster, but perhaps what is most important is their description. “Built to be the best climbing shoes.”

At first glance, this statement is easy to dismiss. After using the Phantom in the gym, on the rock, and on the Moonboard, a climber realizes exactly what Evolv is claiming. These are the best performing climbing shoes Evolv has ever made. These are some of the best climbing shoes anyone has ever made.

Noah Walker on Razorblade Rodeo  Photo by Jacquie Des Rosiers

First off, they’re beautiful. The black-and-white colour contrast makes you feel like a ninja. Aesthetically, nothing has pleased our gear-tester so much since the Five Ten Teams. Aesthetics aside, the Solution-esque closure system goes far beyond any velcro-lacing system built before.

For one thing, it’s adjustable. For another, it’s replaceable. The lacing system can be replaced by anyone in about a minute. You can buy extra laces from Evolv. What’s more, is that the lacing system goes so far down the shoe that it actually feels like laces. In reference to the Five Ten Dragon, a shoe that you can crank down until you achieve a perfect fit in the forefoot, the Phantom’s lacing system makes it easy to achieve a perfect fit.

Unlike the Dragon, the heel is built like a scoop. It sucks on like a Solution heel, but seems 50% more narrow and is much lower volume. The heel is not sticky, but incredibly precise. It will falter on friction-based heel hooks, like those you might find on a volume, but this problem is easily avoided. The heel is so powerful that if you pull with your legs, instead of simply placing it, the shoe will latch onto the hold, regardless of its shape.

Additionally, it’s stiff enough to allow for exceptionally heavy heel hooks on the gnarliest features, without causing pain. Even still, the heel is small enough to allow for perfect feedback. It feels sensitive and responsive.

The toe is a masterpiece. It’s at least as precise as the Scarpa Instinct VS, all while exhibiting a greater downturn, higher asymmetry, and much more grip. Though the shoe is not as stiff as the Instinct VS, it stands just as easily on small feet. It’s so asymmetric that it may struggle on granite or sandstone slabs, though it would depend on the climb. So long as there are foot-holds, it will excel.

The fit’s tight, but comfortable. I downsize until there is zero dead-space. Normally that would cause pain. Though the bend of the last takes a second to get used to, I was able to climb for three hours straight, without needing to take them off.

Over the course of the session, they were removed a handful of times. Its comfort is largely derived from Evolv’s Molded VTR. This Variable Thickness Rand is molded about the shoe with thinner portions about the foot’s hotspots. This works in conjunction with the NEOFLEX technology that allows the shoe’s knuckle box to expand when pushing hard into a foot. It then rebounds to its original shape when the pressure is relieved. This makes for a comfortable fit on and off the wall.

To that effect, the NEOFLEX technology cannot be overstated. It allows the climber to downsize for maximum performance without crushing the foot into submission. This is a unique experience. Though softer shoes produce a similar feeling due to the natural stretch of soft rubber, it’s the rebounding effect of the NEOFLEX technology that sets this shoe apart.

The 1.6-millimetre rubber midsole works in conjunction with the 4.2 millimetres of TRAX SAS rubber to provide a supportive platform for the toe. The midsole also works hard to maintain the shape of the shoe, a difficult task in a weapon as asymmetric as this.

The vegan construction is built of synthetic materials, ensuring limited, unwanted stretch that can occur from use.

The toe-box itself is uniquely proficient at toe-hooks, straight out of the box. Normally, downturned climbing shoes must break in before toe-hooks become accessible. This is because toe-hooks require the user to pull back with their knuckles to create a scoop to catch the hold. In the Phantom, toe-hooks came perfectly, immediately.

If you are a lighter climber, the Phantom will feel stiff for the first hour or two. That said, they will feel sensitive instead of clunky. Additionally, the rubber on these shoes appears stickier than that of the X1, even though they share the same compound.

Razorblade Rodeo – photo by Jacquie Des Rosiers

Summarizing the Phantom is difficult. It’s unlike any other shoe available today. In the gym, it feels overpowered. You stand on footholds and feel immediate confidence. Your foot will not pop. Similarly, the worn out, hyper-slick feet of an old moonboard-kickboard are well within the Phantom’s capabilities. Originally, our tester had presumed this would  not be the case due to its relatively stiff construction and high degree of asymmetry. Instead, it performs as well as the best board climbing shoes on the market. Again, your feet do not pop.

Though this shoe annihilates indoor climbing, it’s outside where the difference is best felt. No matter how glassy, the foot will stay. The Gripped shoe tester found that the Phantom could very well be the best new bouldering shoe of 2020.

In terms of out-of-the box performance, regardless of skill level, this shoe brings everything the modern boulderer needs to the recreational, or high-performance, climbing session. They’re currently $185 USD on Evolv’s website.